Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Josh's Kiln Building Background Check

The kiln building team, rejoicing after the first firing

The most significant kiln building experience of my life occurred at the Hurricane Mountain Center for the Earth Arts in Keene, New York. During the course of 4 weeks I worked and lived with 5 other artist as we built and fired a two chamber climbing kiln. Will Ruggles designed the kiln and Michael Hunt and Naomi Dalglish lead the construction team, which consisted of my close friend Ted, Naomi’s college friend Grace and her now husband Evan. The kiln consisted of a Thai shaped front chamber similar to Michael’s own kiln, followed by a catenary cross draught chamber for salting. The design was an evolution of the Rock Creek climbing kiln that Will and Douglass Rankin made in North Carolina almost 30 years ago and has been widely build throughout the country since then. The Hurricane Mountain Kiln was the first time that Will designed a chamber kiln with a Thai shape as the first chamber, and was conceived for potentially longer firings that could build more ash and produce more wood fired ‘effects’ in the front chamber. This kiln would also serve as the precursor for the design collaboration that Will and I would later work on for my own kiln, the ‘Community Temple’.

Michael and Ted level the situation

The experience of making the Hurricane Mountain kiln was significant for me in a variety of ways. Most importantly it was during this time that I became completely confident in my kiln building ability. The method of immersing yourself in something as a way of really learning it is something that I firmly believe in. It’s like learning a language in a country that speaks that language, it is everywhere, and it becomes the background for everything you do. We knew what we were going to do when we woke up in the morning, we worked on the kiln everyday, and we spent evenings discussing what we had done that day and planning what was going to happen the next day. The kiln was our language and we all came to speak it fluently.

Looking from the back of the kiln at the finished form work

Building this kiln was also an immersion into the ideas of Will Ruggles about kiln design principles and construction methods. I had known Will for quite some time prior to this, and fired the Penland School kiln that he and Douglass built. I read the article in The Studio Potter about that kiln but it seemed like merely an introduction to his way of thinking about kiln design. I have never met anyone that thinks about kilns in such a thoughtful, intelligent, and intuitive way as Will Ruggles. I also could not have asked for a better conduit for that knowledge than Michael Hunt. More than any other people I have met or any book I have read, these two people have influenced my excitement for making kilns and informed my methods for building them.

Josh working the mortar box, mixing the castable for the kiln

In addition to the technical information and kiln building competency that I gained during this experience, there are so many other benefits of being involved that have continued to make a difference in my life and career. We had so much fun, swimming in rivers everyday, cooking and eating food together. We were all brought a lot closer by the experience. When we were not talking about kilns, we were mostly talking about pottery. My interest in local and non-industrially processed materials took off after talking with Michael and Naomi about their process and the wild clay they use.

The nearly finished kiln

All told it was a life-changing event that remains hugely memorable for me to this day. I had worked on many kilns prior to this one and have built many since then, but no kiln, save my own, was more influential and informative as the experience of making this one. This experience is also part of what I am modeling the Carolina Kiln Build after. The idea of working closely with other artist, fully immersing yourself in the project, eating and drinking together, swimming in rivers, creating lasting memories and funny stories for years to come is what this thing is about.

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